Interview with Adam Jay Epstein, HAVE YOU SEEN GORDON?
The narrator wants to play hide and seek with Gordon and the reader. But what if Gordon doesn't want to hide anymore, and wants to stand out instead?
Max's Boat Pick:
HAVE YOU SEEN GORDON?
Written by Adam Jay Epstein and illustrated by Ruth Chan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (September 28, 2021)
What inspired you to write Have You Seen Gordon? "When my daughters were little, I would read each of them a few books every night. Each of them would always pick at least one search and find style book. They love the interactivity of it and I enjoyed watching them have the moments of victory when they discovered something they were looking for. But there was one thing that was always missing from those books: A story. So for many years I thought about writing a search and find with a story. Then, I had a thought. What if the main character in a look and find book was proud of who they were and no longer wanted to hide? What would that do to the book? Suddenly an idea that had seemed funny now felt important and could have a message as well."
You're known for your middle grade fantasy series The Familiars and Snared. How did writing your first picture book differ from writing for middle grade? What do you think the best picture books do? "Writing a picture book is all about rhythm and cadence and repetition. Every word in a picture book requires careful thought and planning. It is closer to writing poetry than it is to writing a novel. I think that the best picture books leave both the child and the adult who is reading the book changed for having read it. Picture books are often more about a shared experience than they are a solitary and personal one."
What are some of your favorite "look and find" books? "One of my earliest reading memories is being read Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan Ahlberg and Janet Ahlberg. While not fitting the conventions of the present look and find books, it perfectly captured the spirit of finding hidden things within the picture that would propel you to the next page. You can't discuss look and find books without calling attention to Where's Waldo? by Martin Handford. His busy and cluttered pages set the stage for everything that would follow. Another pivotal look and find source in my life was Highlights magazine which had a search and find in each issue. There is no question that that magazine fostered an interest in that genre of book in kids across America."
What are some favorite picture books that break the fourth wall? "Well the first one that blew my mind as a kid was The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone and Michael Smollin. I remember reading this book over and over and thinking that it was magical how it felt as if I was changing the story by turning the pages of the book. You felt mischievous for turning the page even though Grover begged you not to. Plus it had one of the all-time best twist endings.
I think The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers is a brilliant example of having the characters in the book talk to the reader in a way that feels fresh and exciting. You can hear each of their voices so clearly in your head and when you read them aloud it's fun to do a silly voice for each of the crayons.
I think another powerful version of breaking the fourth wall occurs on the very last page of The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss when the book asks the reader the question of whether they would tell their own mother what happened on that rainy day."
What was your favorite picture book as a child? "There are so many books that I loved as a kid but I will pick a pair from when I was very, very little. These are the two that my mother and father said that I would ask to be read over and over. Both are by the absolutely incredible Margaret Wise Brown - The Friendly Book and The Color Kittens. Both of which I still consider to be fantastic. The moment in The Color Kittens when the tree turns to a magical silver upon counting to three is one of the great page flips in all of children's books."
Do you remember what you loved reading to your daughters at age 3? At age 5? "This is a really interesting question. Because you're not asking what my girls loved having read to them but what I loved to read to them. At 3, Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann was always a favorite read. I would always add the line "there's a gorilla in my bed" at the appropriate part when the lights are flipped back on. Also that book is a secret "look and find" because the balloon appears on nearly every page getting smaller and smaller.
Another book I loved reading to them when they were younger is Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace. It is both funny and emotional at the same time with a great twist that comes deep into the book."
What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future? "I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen is a new favorite of mine. There are few books that make me laugh as much as that one does. I loved the experience of reading Aaron Becker's Journey. I wanted to live in that book and all the amazing places that it took me. I Dissent by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley was a tremendously moving read and I think a very important book."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Wow. I'm the kind of guy that might be tempted to give you a hundred options here. But I will limit myself to just a few. First of all many of the books that I've written about in previous questions would be on my list of top 100. (The Color Kittens, Little Pea, The Day the Crayons Quit, The Monster at the the End of This Book, The Cat in The Hat) I will add a few that are so powerful that I think that every adult should read them, too. William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is one of the most moving books I have ever read. I recall in fourth grade having it read to me by a school librarian and it made an incredible impression. When I read it to my own daughters I wept uncontrollably after. Fables by Arnold Lobel is one of the most contemplative and thoughtful collection of stories. At the end of that book I feel motivated to change the world and push for greater things in my own life. One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss is such a pleasure to read and have roll off your tongue."